MINNEAPOLIS -- After watching an 8-1 lead evaporate before his eyes, and watching his closer surrender a two-run lead in the ninth inning, Twins manager Paul Molitor sat in the home dugout at Target Field and tried to map out a plan for extra innings against the Astros.Then, with one
MINNEAPOLIS -- After watching an 8-1 lead evaporate before his eyes, and watching his closer surrender a two-run lead in the ninth inning, Twins manager Paul Molitor sat in the home dugout at Target Field and tried to map out a plan for extra innings against the Astros.
Then, with one swing of the bat, Max Kepler solved the issue for him.
Kepler blasted a solo walk-off homer off of Astros reliever Brad Peacock to give the Twins a 9-8 win and secure a series win over the defending World Series champions on Wednesday. It was Kepler's second homer of the game and third of the season.
With the Twins down to their last out of the ninth inning, the 25 year-old left-handed hitter took a 3-2 slider from Peacock and deposited it into the right-feld bleachers.
"I wasn't really expecting anything," Kepler said when asked if he was looking for a specific pitch. "I was just in battle mode, trying to put the ball in play. I struck out the at-bat before. I hate striking out, so I was just trying to put it in play."
The Twins bats woke up in a big way earlier in the day, when they threw eight runs on the scoreboard in the fourth inning against Astros starter Lance McCullersEddie Rosario ripped a three-run triple midway through the frame, and Kepler capped the outburst -- which spanned 11 batters and matched the Twins' run total from their previous three games combined -- with his first home run of the day, a 378-foot two-run blast.
But the Astros answered back immediately against Twins starter Kyle Gibson, who was chased one out into the fifth, as Houston scored four runs on six hits in the inning. The Astros threatened again in the seventh, when they loaded the bases with one out against Twins reliever Zach Duke, but Addison Reed came on to retire Marwin Gonzalez and George Springer in order and end the threat.
Reed's lockdown inning came just hours after he told reporters that he had been unavailable on Tuesday due to strep throat. He also threw a scoreless eighth before handing it over to closer Fernando Rodney.
"Last night, pitching was the last thing on my mind -- I was just trying to go to sleep and get some rest," Reed said. "I woke up this morning and felt fine. … I kind of warmed up and got loose and told [Molitor] I was good to go and went from there."
Rodney entered the ninth with an 8-6 lead and immediately encountered trouble, surrendering a pair of singles. After he walked Gonzalez to load the bases, Rodney induced a ground ball that could have resulted in a game-ending double play. But James Dozier's throw from the second base bag to Rodney at first sailed wide, and two runs scored, knotting the game at 8. Rodney, though, picked up the win despite his blown save.
"I just made a bad throw," Dozier said. "Thank goodness for Kepler bailing me out. It's really a low-percentage play, but I thought I had time to turn it. If I make a better throw, he's out."
Kepler's walk-off homer was the second of his career -- the first came against the Red Sox on June 12, 2016
"I think we've seen a lot of progress the last couple years," Molitor said of Kepler. "We know he has power. It's not the towering home runs, it's more of the line-drive-type swings. They have a lot of carry on them. I think he's more comfortable being here and his place here. And as a result of that, I think he's going to get better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Rosie's triple: Rosario legged out the Twins' first triple of the season in their eight-run fourth inning, which chased McCullers. Rosario's bases-loaded line drive pushed a one-run Twins lead to 5-1. Kepler's first homer capped the huge frame, but the Twins weren't able to add on until the ninth.
Reed escapes trouble: The Astros rallied in the fifth inning, and they had a chance to draw even in the seventh after Duke walked two batters and hit another one to load the bases. Enter Reed, who bailed the Twins out, fanning Gonzalez swinging and inducing Springer to fly out to left field to leave all three runners stranded.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Jose Altuve's single in the fifth inning extended his hitting streak at Target Field to 17 games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest hitting streak by a visiting player at the stadium.
Twins: Minnesota will begin a three-game series with the White Sox at Target Field on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. CT. Jose Berrios will take the mound for Minnesota and attempt to bounce back from his last outing against the Mariners, in which he allowed five run over 4 2/3 innings.
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Jarrid Denney is a reporter for MLB.com based in Minneapolis.